Feller Museum Finds Home at Progressive Field’s Terrace Club
Vince Guerrieri | On 30, Mar 2016
Lost in the renovations and improvements at Progressive Field is a little bit of history.
The right field concourse opened to great fanfare at the beginning of last season, and the renovations behind home plate and down the third-base line – including a Happy Dog, Cleveland Pickle and Ohio City Burrito – promise to be just as popular.
And the Terrace Club – now open to anyone, not just season-ticket holders like it was when Jacobs Field opened in 1994 – offers a new attraction, which opened mid-season, and many fans don’t even know of its existence.
The top floor of the Terrace Club has been the new home of the Bob Feller Museum since last year. Fittingly, the museum dedicated to the Indians fireballer opened to the public the night Corey Kluber struck out 18 in a one-hitter against the Cardinals on May 13.
Team Curator Jeremy Feador said getting foot traffic can be a problem. “We’re still trying to get past the idea that the Terrace Club isn’t open to the public,” he said.
The museum originally opened in Feller’s hometown of Van Meter, Iowa, in 1995, five years after a committee organized to honor the town’s favorite son. The museum was sustained by Feller, who could get other ballplayers to show up for various fundraising events. Feller, a mainstay on the memorabilia show and rubber chicken circuit, would appear in reciprocation.
But fundraising for the museum became more difficult after Feller’s death in 2010. The museum first limited its hours, closing in the winter, and then closed entirely in 2014, leaving just two free-standing museums devoted to single baseball players: The Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore and the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, S.C. (A similar fate befell the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame in Florida. After the Splendid Splinter – one of Feller’s contemporaries – died, the museum closed, with most of the exhibits moved to Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.)
The building that formerly housed the Bob Feller Museum became the Van Meter City Hall, and some Feller artifacts are still on display there. Some others went to the USS Alabama, the ship Feller served on with the U.S. Navy in World War II, now a memorial park in Mobile Bay.
But most of them went into a U-Haul Truck. Feador and Bob DiBiasio, senior vice president for public affairs for the team, drove back to Cleveland. “It was my first time driving a U-Haul,” Feador said.
About 65 percent of memorabilia from the Bob Feller Museum is on display, including ticket stubs from the 1948 World Series, a telegram from Jackie Robinson congratulating him on his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame (they were inducted together in 1962) and his Navy uniform.
The centerpiece of the display, though, is a bat of his that was prominently featured in one of the greatest sports photos of all time. It was Babe Ruth Day when the Indians played the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948. Ruth, ailing with cancer and with only two months to live, steadied himself on Feller’s bat as he stood at home plate. While other photographers lined up down the first base line, New York Herald Tribune photographer Nat Fein stood behind Ruth, snapping what turned out to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of the Babe wearing the number 3 for the last time. A teammate ended up keeping the bat, and it ended up first in the hands of infamous memorabilia collector Barry Halper and then in other private collections before Feller bought it himself – for $95,000 – to put in the museum.
In its own way, the Feller museum at the stadium is a throwback to the old Indians Hall of Fame. The Indians were the first team with its own museum, opening between sections 11 and 12 of Cleveland Stadium in 1952. The museum included a panoramic mural of the Indians’ former home of League Park as well as other paintings and memorabilia including a ball used on Opening Day for Cleveland Stadium and a ball from the famous Game 5 of the 1920 World Series.
In time, and as ownership groups changed, the entire collection was lost.
“I’ve seen auction listings of items that said, ‘Previously in the Indians Hall of Fame,’” Feador said. “It’s frustrating.”